It was so nice having the Yankees double A farm team a half hour’s drive away from my back door twenty years ago. We’d put our four kids in the minivan and take them to Heritage Park, which was what they called the home field of the Eastern League’s Albany- Colonie Yankees back then and for less than twenty bucks, my family of six would spend an evening watching players we hoped would some day be on the roster of the big league Yankees. And many were, including the core four of Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Posada, the Williams boys, Bernie and Gerald, Roberto Kelly, Jim Leyritz, Andy Stankiewicz, Pat Kelly, Sterling Hitchcock and a host of others who eventually got to play in the Bronx.
One of the Albany-Colonie players who I thought might be a future Yankee star was today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Back in 1991, Dave Silvestri was the A-C Yankees starting shortstop and leading home run hitter. He belted 19 round-trippers that year and drove in 83 runs. I was hopeful that Silvestri would turn into a pinstriped version of Cal Ripken, a starting shortstop with lots of pop in his bat. He wasn’t perfect. His defense needed work and he struck out a lot but those were common maladies in younger players. He was certainly the organization’s top prospect at short and he continued to pound the ball at the triple A level. The parent club was terrible back then and had no good shortstops on the roster. Remember Alvaro Espinosa?
But instead of getting a decent shot to play at the top level, the Yanks treated Silvestri like a yo-yo, sending him up and down repeatedly between their big league and Columbus rosters. He played seven games for New York in 1992, seven more in ’93, a dozen in ’94 and his Yankee career high of seventeen in 1995. Meanwhile, Jeter passed him on the organization’s depth chart for shortstops and the Yankees used up all their options on the guy. For a while, it looked as if he would be groomed to play third base, but in the end, the Yankees traded the then 27-year-old native of St. Louis to the Expos for a minor leaguer named Tyrone Horne. Silvestri told a New York Times reporter he couldn’t wait to leave the Yankees so he could play for an organization that would finally give him a shot at a regular big league job.
The Expos gave Silvestri that shot in 1996, when he appeared in a career-high 86 games for Montreal. But he hit just .204 during that season and he was released at the end of that year. He continued playing, mostly in the minors for three more years.
|NYY (4 yrs)||43||89||73||14||14||1||3||3||11||0||13||24||.192||.315||.411||.726|
|MON (2 yrs)||125||283||234||28||52||10||0||3||24||4||43||68||.222||.341||.303||.644|
|TBD (1 yr)||8||14||14||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.071||.071||.071||.143|
|TEX (1 yr)||2||4||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|ANA (1 yr)||3||11||11||0||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||1||.091||.091||.182||.273|
I was seven years old when I heard the news that Tony Kubek was not going to be able to play for the Yankees during the 1962 baseball season because he had to report for National Guard duty. Having just started following the Yankees in 1960, this represented the first time ever that I was about to experience one of my favorite team’s regular players leave the lineup. Up until Kubek’s military call-up, I probably thought only death could separate Skowren from Richardson, from Kubek, from Boyer, from Howard, from Mantle from Maris from Berra, etc.
So who was going to play shortstop for New York? The Yankees answered that question by bringing up Tom Tresh from their Richmond minor league team. Born on September 20, 1937 in Detroit, Tresh was a switch hitter, just like my boyhood hero, Mickey Mantle and his dad Mike had been a catcher for the White Sox in the late thirties and early forties. The Yankees batted Tresh second in the lineup, just like Kubek, and he was having a great year. He had more power than Kubek, hitting 20 home runs in 1962 and he also drove in 93. He wasn’t as good a shortstop as Kubek but not many were. When I learned Kubek would be back in a Yankee uniform in August of that season, I was torn. I liked Tony but this new guy had grown on me. When I heard the Yankees were going to instead use Tresh as their regular left-fielder when Kubek returned, I was an ecstatic young man.
The Yankees ended up winning the 1962 pennant and another World Series and Tresh made the All Star team and was voted the AL Rookie of the Year. I was sure Mantle, Maris and Tresh would be the best outfield in baseball for a long time. Unfortunately, as it turned out, injuries to both Mantle and Maris prevented that from happening. Tresh made the defensive transition to his new position seamlessly, even winning a Gold Glove in 1965. But he never again put together as good an offensive year as he had during his rookie season. Though New York won Pennants in 1963 and ’64, their core group of starting position players got old fast and by 1965, most of their skills had deserted them. Even the much younger Tresh stopped hitting. His highest single season batting average after 1965 was just .233.
I was shocked back in October of 2008 when a headline at NYTimes.com reported Tom Tresh had died. I was probably more shocked to find out that he was seventy years old at the time. Where have all those Yankee baseball summers gone?
Tresh shares his birthday with another one-time Yankee shortstop prospect.
|NYY (9 yrs)||1098||4520||3920||549||967||166||33||140||493||43||511||651||.247||.337||.413||.750|
|DET (1 yr)||94||377||331||46||74||13||1||13||37||2||39||47||.224||.305||.387||.692|
Todays Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is best known for his days with the New York Mets. He started at shortstop for the Amazin’s from 1988 through 1991 and set the since broken Major League record for consecutive error-less games at short with 88 straight during the 1988 and ’89 seasons. Kevin’s problem was his offense or lack there-of. He struggled to hit .230 during his days at Shea. When he hurt his shoulder during the 1991 season and underwent surgery, his Met career was all but over. He was then signed and released by respectively, the Dodgers, Marlins and Padres without appearing in a big league game for any of those teams. The Yankees then signed him in May of 1994 and he played in 13 games in pinstripes during the remainder of the 1994 and beginning of the ’95 seasons before he was again released. He signed with Texas in 1996 and suddenly erupted with his bat, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 99 from the bottom spot in the Rangers’ lineup. That one-time spurt got him a $1.6 million dollar one-year contract with the Pirates in ’97 and another $1.5 million in ’98 but he never again approached those lofty numbers.
Elster was considered a “hunk” by the ladies who used to swoon over him wherever he played. Married and divorced twice, the native of San Pedro, CA once hoped to use those good looks to establish a film career. He did get cast in a small part in the film “Little Big League” in 1994. In 1995, just before he started his second season with the Yankees, he told a New York Times interviewer that he kept making excuses for his below-average play, especially his poor hitting during the first part of his career. He actually retired after the 1998 season and was working on opening a bar in Las Vegas. An amateur drummer himself, Elster’s plan was to invite musicians to jam there whenever they wanted. Before the idea got off the ground, he accepted an offer to play for the Dodgers in 2000. His one last thrill as a big league player occurred on April 11th of that season, when the Dodgers travelled to San Francisco to face their arch-rival Giants in the first game ever to be played in Petco Park. Elster hit three home runs in that game to lead LA to a win.
Other Yankees born on August 3rd include this one-time phee-nom and this long-time New York bullpen coach. I’d also like to wish my oldest son Matthew John, who also happens to be a great Yankee fan, a very happy 35th birthday.
|NYM (7 yrs)||537||1765||1584||166||355||75||6||34||174||10||142||242||.224||.288||.343||.631|
|TEX (2 yrs)||241||932||812||112||199||42||3||32||136||4||85||204||.245||.315||.422||.738|
|NYY (2 yrs)||17||40||37||1||2||1||0||0||0||0||2||11||.054||.103||.081||.184|
|LAD (1 yr)||80||259||220||29||50||8||0||14||32||0||38||52||.227||.341||.455||.796|
|PIT (1 yr)||39||164||138||14||31||6||2||7||25||0||21||39||.225||.327||.449||.776|
|PHI (1 yr)||26||65||53||10||11||4||1||1||9||0||7||14||.208||.302||.377||.679|
If you weren’t around during the 1960’s when the great New York teams led by Mantle and Maris were doing their thing, you missed a great era of the Yankee dynasty. Fortunately, you also missed the second-half of that decade as well, which means you didn’t see that dynasty crumble, as the players who comprised it grew old or got hurt seemingly all at once. What was left were a bunch of prospects who would never become good big league players along with a few who weren’t yet ready to do so. That forced the Yankees to fill in the holes and gaps with acquisitions from other teams and one of those deals was for a switch-hitting Dodger shortstop named Gene Michael.
The resident of Akron, Ohio had only been in the big leagues for a couple of seasons when the Yanks purchased his contract from Los Angeles, yet Michael was already 30 years old. He was considered a decent fielding shortstop but what had kept him in the minor leagues for so long was his inability to hit. He might have been a switch-hitter but the problem was he really couldn’t swing the bat very well from either side of the plate. In fact, after he averaged just .202 trying to replace Maury Wills as the Dodger shortstop in 1967, Michael spent the following winter in the Florida Instructional League, determined to become a pitcher. That’s when his phone rang and it was Yankee GM Larry MacPhail telling him he was coming to New York where Ralph Houk hoped to make him his starting shortstop. That plan looked like it had flopped decisively after Michael played 61 games at short during the ’68 season and hit just .198. That forced Houk to bring Tom Tresh back in from the outfield to once again play the position at which he had won the 1962 Rookie of the Year Award.
When the 1969 spring training season rolled around, Houk had penciled in Tresh to remain at short but was also hoping Bobby Murcer or Jerry Kenney might win the job in camp. Both players were returning from military service that spring but neither could handle the position and when Tresh started the regular season in a horrible slump, Houk again turned to Michael.
Even though this all happened over 45 years ago, I can remember feeling not-to-thrilled when I heard that Michael was being given the job again. If he had been with the Yankees just a half dozen seasons earlier and hit .198, he’d have been released or buried so deeply in the Yankee farm system his family would have needed a backhoe to find him. So what’s Michael do? He goes out and hits, 272 and fields the position close to brilliantly. Could I have been wrong? Was the player sarcastically nicknamed “Stick” actually evolving into a good stick? Unfortunately no. Houk and Yankee fans like me spent the next four years waiting for Michael to replicate the offense he generated during that 1969 season and he never did.
When Steinbrenner took over the team, Houk left to manage in Detroit and when the Yankees released Michael in January of 1975, he joined the Major in Mo-Town for his final season as a big league player. Steinbrenner may have not respected the Stick as a player but he valued his baseball smarts so he kept giving Michael jobs in the Yankee organization. In 1981, Steinbrenner made him Yankee manager and he had the Yankees in first place when baseball went on strike that June. When play resumed that August, Michael grew so sick of Steinbrenner’s meddling with his handling of the team that he told the Boss to either fire him or shut up. Steinbrenner felt he had no choice but the latter and replaced him with Bob Lemon. The following April, when Lemon’s decision making irked the Boss, he fired him too and replaced him with the Stick.
He would eventually ask Steinbrenner to relieve him as manager because the two argued too much when Michael was in that job. He wanted to work in the Yankee front office and fortunately for the Boss, he gave Michael his wish. So when Faye Vincent suspended the Yankee owner for his roll in the Dave Winfield-Howie Spira episode in 1990, Michael took over control of the organization and is credited with building the team that won four World Series between 1996 and 2000. So the shortstop who signified the end of one Yankee dynasty became the architect of another.
Michael’s Yankee playing record:
|NYY (7 yrs)||789||2656||2405||205||561||79||10||12||204||21||215||356||.233||.296||.289||.585|
|PIT (1 yr)||30||33||33||9||5||2||1||0||2||0||0||7||.152||.152||.273||.424|
|LAD (1 yr)||98||245||223||20||45||3||1||0||7||1||11||30||.202||.246||.224||.470|
|DET (1 yr)||56||158||145||15||31||2||0||3||13||0||8||28||.214||.253||.290||.543|
Michael’s Yankee managing record:
|1||1981||43||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||56||34||22||.607||1||First half of season|
|2||1981||43||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||26||14||12||.538||6||Second half of season|
|3||1982||44||New York Yankees||AL||2nd of 3||86||44||42||.512||5|
|New York Yankees||2 years||168||92||76||.548||4.0|
|Chicago Cubs||2 years||238||114||124||.479||5.5|
The Yankee teams of the 1950s were among the best in the elite franchise’s illustrious history. Managed by Casey Stengel, they won eight of the decade’s ten possible Pennants and six World Championships. One of the key members of those great teams was a Scottish-American infielder, born in San Francisco by the name of Gil McDougald. Signed by the Yankees out of the University of San Francisco in 1948, McDougald tore up Minor League pitching, averaging .340 during his three-year climb through the Yankee farm system. He was brought up to the Bronx in 1951 along with a much more heralded Yankee rookie named Mantle. It was McDougald who won that season’s Rookie of the Year award with a .306 average. In that year’s World Series against the cross-town Giants, McDougald became the first rookie to hit a grand slam home run in Fall Classic history.
Stengel loved McDougald’s defensive versatility and took full advantage of it. During his career in the Bronx, the infielder played 599 games at second, 508 at the hot corner and another 284 at shortstop and was selected as an All Star at all three positions. He had a lifetime batting average of .276 and hit 112 regular season and seven World Series home runs.
Two line drives had tremendous impact upon McDougald’s career. The first came off the bat of Yankee teammate, Bob Cerv during batting practice before a game in August of 1955. McDougald was standing near second base and the ball struck him in the left ear. Even though no one realized it at the time, the resulting damage caused a gradual hearing loss that resulted in McDougald being almost completely deaf early on in his retirement years. In 1957, another line drive, this one off McDougald’s bat, hit Cleveland Indian pitching sensation, Herb Score square in the face. Score was never again the same pitcher and McDougald later admitted that the incident impacted his play as well.
After the Yankees suffered their heartbreaking loss to the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, the front office informed Gil that he would not be protected in the upcoming AL expansion draft. McDougald decided to call it quits at that time. He died in November of 2010, at the age of 82.
There must have been a slight but confusing communication problem in the New York Highlander clubhouse during the 1908 season. The manager of that team at the start of the season was Hall of Famer, Clark Griffith, who would go on to become the patriarch of baseball in our nation’s capital. Griffith’s ’08 Highlanders were not a very good team. In fact they were so bad, Griffith voluntarily resigned as skipper in early June, telling the press that he had tried everything possible to fix what was wrong with the squad and was simply giving up, indicating that perhaps he himself was a jinx.
I’m sure one of the “everything possible remedies” the bewildered skipper used was regular pep talks to his team. If these were like most managerial pep talks through the ages, Griffith would end his oratories with the battle cry “Now let’s play ball!” Therein may have lied the problem. The Highlander players would probably just sit there looking at each other and thinking to themselves; “We are playing Ball already at shortstop and we’re still losing!”
They would be referring to one Cornelius “Neal” Ball, their 5 foot 7 inch teammate from Grand Haven, MI. Ball started 132 games at shortstop for the Highlanders in that ’08 season, hitting .247 and leading the league in strikeouts with 91. It was the 27-year-old Ball’s first full big league season and it would be his last one with the Yankees. In May of 1909, New York sold Ball to the Cleveland Nats. Two months later, he became the first Major League player in history to execute an unassisted triple play.
Ball and this very good former starting pitcher are the only two members of the Yankee roster I could find who celebrate a birthday on April 22.
|CLE (4 yrs)||306||1092||991||99||260||34||13||4||96||49||62||194||.262||.306||.335||.641|
|NYY (3 yrs)||155||565||519||45||125||18||4||0||45||35||25||112||.241||.278||.291||.569|
|BOS (2 yrs)||41||119||103||19||19||4||0||0||10||8||12||17||.184||.276||.223||.499|
I remember very clearly not being too excited when I heard the news that the Yanks had signed free-agent shortstop Spike Owen just before Christmas in 1992. They gave the Cleburne, Texas native a surprisingly generous 3-year deal worth $7 million. He was 31 years old at the time and he had been in the big leagues for 11 seasons. A switch-hitter, Owen had made his big league debut with Seattle in 1983 and got his big break in August of ’86, when the Mariners sent him and outfielder Dave Henderson to the Red Sox for Boston’s young starting shortstop, Rey Quinones. Boston skipper, John McNamara immediately inserted Owen as his starting shortstop and he remained there through the end of the regular season, even though he hit just .183 following the trade. But he played excellent defense and got the opportunity to make some offensive amends during the postseason by averaging .429 in the 1986 ALCS versus the Angels and an even .300 against the Mets during the Red Sox epic collapse in the ’86 World Series.
He lost his starting job in Beantown to Jody Reed in 1988 and was dealt to the Expos the following December. He had some of his best big league seasons defensively while with Montreal and even put together a record 61-game streak of errorless shortstop play there, that has since been broken. Though he never hit for a high average, Owen had good strike zone discipline that permitted him to finish his career with an on base percentage that was almost 80 points higher than his .246 lifetime batting average.
When his contract expired in 1992, Montreal decided to go with Will Cordero at short and let Owen walk. That’s when the Yankees knocked him over with their generosity. The franchise was just emerging from the Stump Merrill regime at the time, during which the flashy but mostly ineffective Alvaro Espinosa had started at short. New York’s new skipper, Buck Showalter had two other shortstop candidates on that year’s Yankee roster in Randy Velarde and Mike Gallego, but he went with Owen to start the season. Spike surprised everyone when he got off to a hot start with his bat, averaging over .400 during the first two weeks of the ’93 season. The problem was his defense. It seemed like every other ground ball hit his way ended up just out of his reach and the New York sports press made frequent negative notice of Owens propensity to make plays from his knees. When his average dipped to .240 by the end of July, Showalter began rotating Gallego and Velarde in with Owen at short.
By the end of that 1993 season, I think Buck might have told the Yankee front office he could get along fine with those two as his middle infielders and Yankee GM Gene Michael took the opportunity to try and shed some of the huge Yankee payroll by dealing Owen. He found a willing partner in the Angels but only after the Yankees agreed to pay most of the amount due on the two remaining years of Owen’s contract. Spike then had the best season of his career starting at short for California during the strike shortened 1994 season. He ended up losing his Angels’ starting job the following year and when his contract expired there were no big league teams interested in signing him.
|MON (4 yrs)||552||1976||1700||198||420||79||20||21||142||22||18||238||195||.247||.338||.354||.692|
|SEA (4 yrs)||462||1770||1590||190||380||61||23||11||136||38||22||138||176||.239||.301||.327||.628|
|BOS (3 yrs)||263||945||820||111||200||33||9||8||76||14||10||97||79||.244||.325||.335||.660|
|CAL (2 yrs)||164||558||486||47||133||26||5||4||65||5||10||67||39||.274||.363||.372||.735|
|NYY (1 yr)||103||367||334||41||78||16||2||2||20||3||2||29||30||.234||.294||.311||.605|